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The 5th arrondissement of Paris is also known as the Latin Quarter because it is home to that great Paris university, the Sorbonne, whose students once conversed in Latin. Today, it is a hip area lined by quaint bookstores, trendy boutiques and lovely cafés, bordering the equally appealing St Germain des Pres district in the 6th.
I began my day here at the Place Monge metro station. If you are here on a Wednesday, Friday or Sunday, you will immediately be greeted as you exit the station by market stalls selling vegetables, bread, honey and other goodies. I advise you to come with an empty stomach!
Head south down Rue Monge until you see the 15th century Eglise le St Medard. Loop north around the church onto Rue Mouffetard, also a popular market street from Tuesdays to Sundays. Personally, I found it a little underwhelming, but perhaps this was because I’d made the mistake of eating breakfast prior to the day’s diversions. Let me reiterate the importance of coming to these markets hungry!
As you head north on Rue Mouffetard, the market stalls will give way to a host of cheap eateries mainly catering to students in the area. Before long, you will reach Place de la Contrescarpe. This square is lined by cafés and has been a popular haunt for writers since the 1500s. Hemingway once lived around the corner at 74 Rue de Cardinal Lemoine.
Turn left onto Rue de l’Estrapade. On your left, you will find popular wine bar and cafe Cafe de la Nouvelle Mairie.
Just beyond this cafe, turn right onto Rue Clotaire until you see the Pantheon. You can’t miss it! Stand at the top of the steps just before entering the Pantheon and look back at the sweeping views of Paris with the Eiffel Tower in the distance. Once inside, you may be able to climb 206 steps to the top of the building for even better views, but this part of the building was under renovation and therefore off limits when I visited in mid 2013. Regardless, it is still worth visiting the grand interiors and heading into the crypt to pay your respects to several of the greats, including Marie Curie, Voltaire, and Victor Hugo.
Once you’re done at the Pantheon, exit and turn right onto Rue Clovis. Behind the Pantheon is a small but beautiful church that you should not miss, St Etienne du Mont.
Now keep heading east on Rue Clovis until you reach Cardinal Lemoine metro station. If you have the energy to keep going, turn right onto Rue Monge until you’re back where you started, the Rue Monge station. You can either stroll through the market again or turn left onto Rue Lacepede, then right onto Rue des Quatrefages. You will soon see the Mosquee de Paris, the largest in Paris and 2nd largest in Europe. I’m not sure whether it’s open to the public on other days, but it was certainly closed on the day I went – a Friday, their holy day. Around the corner is a Turkish hammam, which sports a courtyard cafe. Although I did not eat there as I was keen to continue my exploration, I found the smells from the cafe to be very enticing and they almost caused me to stop.
Turn right onto Rue Daubenton and cross Rue Geoffroy Saint Hilaire to reach the entrance of the Jardin des Plantes. If you’re travelling with children, they may enjoy the science and dinosaur exhibits at the Natural History Museum close to the entrance. There were certainly plenty of school kids there the day I went! The garden is also home to a small zoo, which also seemed popular with children, a garden labyrinth and 2 greenhouses, making it a pleasant place for a stroll, picnic or day outing with the family.
If you’re continuing your walk, exit the garden by the Seine, crossing the street so that you can walk left by the riverside. At the Pont de Sully, veer left onto the Blvd St Germain. The futuristic Institut du Monde Arabe is known for its steel facade with apertures that open and close depending on the amount of sunlight, but the best bit is the rooftop terrace. There is a very good rooftop restaurant right by the terrace, but if you choose not to eat there, entry to the terrace is free anyway and highly recommended for fantastic views of the Notre Dame Cathedral.
Keep heading west on Blvd St Germain. If you’re there on a Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday morning, you will find yet another outdoor market by the Maubert-Mutualite metro station. If not, keep walking until you reach Rue St Jacques. Turn left. Before long, you will see the Sorbonne.
You may choose to walk around the Sorbonne. After that, turn left onto Rue des Ecoles, right onto Blvd St Michel, then right onto Rue de Sommerard, where you will find the charmingly medieval Musee National du Moyen Age (Museum of the Middle Ages). This museum is famous for housing the Lady and the Unicorn tapestries.
Return to Blvd St Michel and turn right around the museum. At the corner of Blvd St Germain are the Thermes de Cluny, the remains of baths dating back to 200AD. I did not find these overly exciting, however if you continue east on Blvd St Germain, you will be able to view the equally picturesque northern facade of the Middle Ages Museum next door.
Turn left onto Rue Boutebrie, which gives way to Rue des Pretres St Severin, where you can enjoy a moment of quiet and peace in the church of St Severin.
Turn left onto Rue St Severin, right onto Rue Xavier Privas and right again onto Rue de la Huchette. You are now in the heart of old Paris, with its charming narrow labyrinthine lanes flanked by gyro and couscous stands.
At Rue St Jacque, turn left and then an immediate right onto Rue de la Bucherie. At #37, you will find the beloved and always crowded bookstore, Shakespeare and Co.
Return to Rue St Jacques and turn left onto Quai St Michel. The Place St Michel marks the border between the 5th and 6th arrondissements, and you will find a metro stop here, as well as this well known fountain.
From here, you could turn right to the Ile de la Cite or continue walking left to explore St Germain, but if you’re like me, you would be pretty tired by now so maybe save those areas for another day!
Have you visited the Latin Quarter of Paris? What other sights or eats would you recommend in this area?
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